Posted by: Chris Maloney | February 10, 2015

Can You Trust Your Supplements? No. But Maybe Sometimes.

What is the most important crime in New York? Evidently the fact that Walgreens may not be selling you the right herb outranks murder and assault. The New York Attorney General is on the warpath, sending out cease-and-desist orders. The New York Times has taken the opinion that this is the crime of the century, “a sobering message for the rest of the nation.”

Is this news? The New York Times ran the same story on November 13, 2013, only without the AG’s input. For them to pretend that we’ve all been mislead all this time, only to be saved by the AG’s office, is pretty strange.

It would have been more useful to cover what the AG found with more detail. If you go to the announcement by the AG, he found that GNC was 22% accurate, Target was 41% accurate, Walgreens was 18% accurate, and Walmart was 4% accurate on getting the right plants in the right containers.  None of these are bragging rights, but it is notable that you are nearly guaranteed to NOT get what you think you are buying at Walmart, while you’ve got about a 50/50 split at Target.

Poison Hemlock

It was notable that poison hemlock was not among the adulterants, although Target came close with wild carrot. Given the backlash from the supplement industry, we aren’t likely to see any changes in the law until something like hemlock shows up accidentally.

While I’m surprised that so little of the actual herb was found (what did they use that was less expensive than garlic powder?) I wouldn’t recommend patients buy something off-the-shelf and expect great results. Even when the herb is correct and prepared with active ingredients, that doesn’t help with the reality that it is self-prescribed by someone who may not know the possible interactions and side-effects.

Herbal supplements are not going away. So we need to look at a medical system that doesn’t address herbs properly. No one has concerns about band aids, antibiotic creams, antifungal ointments, or epsom salts being sold directly to consumers. We understand that if consumers have questions, they can contact their doctor. The easiest way to regulate these supplements: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto, is to make their proper function and action part of the standard medical curriculum. Informed consumers with their doctor’s help can best use the power of the purse to promote those companies who have independent herbal testing built into their manufacturing practices. For someone lacking expertise, looking at the supplement brands carried by doctor-only distributors like Emerson Ecologics will give a sense that there are good supplement companies producing quality products.

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